The following post is by Todd Martin, Pastor of College and Missions at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, KY
Sometimes the God who gave us the Great Commission also gives us a perfect set-up to fulfill it.
Pentecost is one example – it was a beautifully staged day for the good news of Jesus. A whole myriad of nations had gathered where the disciples were – Mesopotamians, Asians, Egyptians, Libyans, Romans, Arabians (just to name a few.) It was meticulously orchestrated – God in his providence chose that multi-ethnic time and place to send the Holy Spirit in power for the proclamation of the gospel.
We often think, if only we could see a gathering like that again! If only we had some place where followers of Jesus have the message of the gospel and the power of the Spirit in the presence of the nations! But isn’t that exactly what we see in almost every urban North American city in our time? Look at faithful churches today and you will see followers of Jesus who have embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ and experienced the indwelling Holy Spirit of God, just like the believers at Pentecost. Now look at your local universities. Who do you see studying? The nations.
The Lord has strategically set the stage for us to obey the Great Commission in our day. At Pentecost, there were a relatively small number of disciples and a multi-ethnic crowd that needed the message. Today, in each university town in North America, you can find hundreds of disciples of Christ (if not thousands) living and learning next to hundreds (if not thousands) of people from the nations. Many of those students from the nations have never had a Christian friend, been in the home of a Christian, or spent a significant amount of time conversing with a Christian.
The reality that the nations are gathering at our colleges and universities makes possible what we call reverse missions.
Think about how mission efforts have traditionally happened over the last two centuries. A Christian would raise funds, make arrangements, procure visas or other paperwork, buy tickets to travel across oceans, and then begin the hard work of language-learning. It’s how it worked with William Carey, Adoniram Judson, Lottie Moon, and countless others.
But now, in the case of the international students among us, we have the people of the nations raising the funds, making the arrangements, procuring the visas, buying the tickets to travel across oceans, and putting in the hard work of language-learning to come and live where we are. It is reverse missions. All the logistics necessary to create proximity between our churches and the people of the nations have been taken care of – not by us, but by the nations themselves.
Imagine what it would be like if we could have a conversation with Carey, Judson, and Moon about our situation today:
You mean the people from the nations are living in your city? Studying at your university?
Yes, that’s right.
Indians? Burmese? Chinese? These are the people groups we wept over and spent our lives for!
Yes, all of those groups, and many more.
Who is funding all of this, making it possible for them to be in your city?
Well, they are – their parents, mostly, sometimes even their governments.
And how can you learn to speak to all of them?
We don’t need to – they study English before coming.
God is sending precious guests to our cities, visitors made in his image, from people groups all over the world. God placed a value on their souls (and ours) when he sent his son. We show ourselves to be his followers as we value the people from the nations living among us and take intentional effort to meet them, serve them, love them, and point them to Christ.
Some of the students from the nations come to us already wanting to explore Christianity – most do not. For those students from the nations who meet Christ-followers, hear the good news, and believe, they receive a faith of infinitely more value than the education they came to pursue. They return to their countries not only as heirs of the kingdom of Christ, but as those who hold in their hearts and mind the good news of Jesus, ready to be shared with others.
The International Mission Board (and some others) produce a color-coded world map that shows the earth in terms of access to the Gospel. The one I have seen has green areas where there is access to the gospel and red areas where people have no access to the gospel, with some shades between. Every time there is a visiting international student or scholar who believes and then returns home, think of it as a little splash of green in their hometown. At this very moment, there are groups of people in Spain, all over China, in Japan, and other areas who have access to the gospel because they are the friends, coworkers, and family of students who have come to Christ in faith during their encounters with believers here in the States.
These returning students know their culture from the inside. They know their language better than any foreigner ever could. They know whole networks of people in their home country. And now they know the eternal, merciful, matchless Prince of Peace. Their friends and family will notice the difference God has made in their lives.
They are like the Acts 8 eunuch, who came to faith on his way home from an international journey. His conversion marked a blessed day for his soul – the day he became a beloved child of God. His trip home marked a blessed day for his people – the day the gospel went to Ethiopia in a chariot. Every year, airplanes carry hundreds of thousands of international students back home from their studies in the United States. For some of them, their study in America meant the time they were introduced to their savior, Jesus. And for those new Christians, their return flight home marks the arrival in their country of one who can witness of the forgiving, redeeming work of that same savior.
In one sense reverse mission is a new phenomenon, with over a million international students currently living in the United States among us for study. But in a deeper sense, reverse missions is not new. It is a continuation of the story of how God has been calling his own to himself from the nations of the world, stretching back to the early days of the church, to an Ethiopian eunuch and to a multi-ethnic crowd gathered for a celebration of Pentecost.
The God who gave us the Great Commission has also set us up to fulfill it. Will you follow him in his work by strategizing to reach the nations in your own city?